Joint performances by cellist Nancy Green and pianist Frederick Moyer tend to be special occasions, often highlighting celebrations of various distinguished individuals. These grandchildren of NC’s famous playwright – they are cousins – merit celebration all on their own, of course, but their comparatively rare recitals together seem too much to let pass without additional festive garnishment. This was the case at the lovely Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, where a rock-solid gala program of music by Schumann, Prokofiev, and Franck was enriched with a major tribute to Norris L. Hodgkins, Jr., whose daughters and spouse joined him at the front of the room as Milton Sills presented, on behalf of the Governor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor. The banker and former mayor of Southern Pines was, along with Paul Green, a major benefactor of the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, based in the former home of James and Katharine Lamont Boyd.
The center takes its name from the nearby longleaf pine forest, one of the natural wonders of our state. The home, too, is a thing of beauty and wonder, and its great room, which seats perhaps 100 people, is a splendid place, visually and acoustically, for chamber music, up close and personal. As it happened, the very high level of the playing also reminded attendees of the outstanding work in the arts and culture of the honoree’s first wife, the late Sara Wilson Hodgkins, whose name lives on thanks to an endowed cello chair in the NC Symphony and her service as Secretary of Cultural Resources.
After welcoming remarks and introductions by Elaine Sills, whose work embraces the coordination of the concert series at Weymouth (and who, too, was present at the dedication of the facility, on July 20, 1979), the recital got underway with the three Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, of Robert Schumann, the 200th anniversary of whose birth is being observed throughout the world this year. These are dramatic and dynamic vignettes, composed for clarinet or cello and piano. The artists dug into them with appropriate vigor and enthusiasm, and the immediacy of their playing and their close proximity to the audience made revisiting the music a truly invigorating experience.
There was great contrast between these short pieces and Prokofiev’s somewhat episodic (but nonetheless comparably dark) Sonata in C, Op. 119. Prokofiev, who had the misfortune to die on the same day as Stalin, could be as mercurial as Schumann, albeit for different reasons. This sonata was premiered in 1950 by Rostropovich and Richter, whose names will be recognized by all but our youngest readers. Their recording set all the standards, but there can have been no complaints about the glorious rendition by Green and Moyer, which managed to give the music new life and new vitality.
The brief intermission allowed for the aforementioned recognition of Norris L. Hodgkins, Jr., who was duly applauded for his lifetime of service. This break also allowed the curious to check out Moyer’s music, which was contained in an Apple notebook computer – not just the score but the artist’s notes and annotations, too, including an all-caps red pulsating “LOOK!” at one particular point. The page turning is done by means of a foot pedal, in this instance taped to the floor with duct tape. (Green played entirely from memory.)
There followed remarks by Paul E. Green, Jr., whose interest in (and knowledge of) music led to his research into some scraps of manuscript by Robert Schumann ultimately located in Stockholm. The “find” is a previously unpublished finale for Schumann’s Sonata No. 3, in F minor, Op. 14, a sprawling work that its publisher thought too big, thus resulting in the suppression of this movement. The account is like a who-done-it, one that might have served as a subject for the Senior Green, had he but known.... Moyer helped in the deciphering of the manuscript and added a few touches to enable its performance as a “complete” piece (full details of which are at his website). As it happens, there was more to the telling than the playing, but the resulting music is without question a major addition to our knowledge of the composer and a worthwhile musical curiosity that merits the attention of all those who admire Schumann’s artistic legacy.
The rest of the second half was devoted to Franck’s well-known Sonata in A, originally for violin and piano but arranged (by several artists, apparently starting with Jules Delsart), for cello and piano. Nowadays, the cello version enjoys complete parity with the original, and it’s easy to understand why, particularly when realized with the drama and passion Green and Moyer brought to it. Their playing, which represented an ideal form of partnership, brought the program to an end and the audience, to its feet, in gratitude.
Balance throughout was splendid – never once did Moyer overpower Green’s lines. This may have been due in part to the closed piano lid – or maybe even the padding added beneath it(!) – but it was the results that mattered and the results were, consistently, first rate. Music lovers who have not experienced Green and Moyer together owe it to themselves to be alert for future concerts hereabouts.
The evening ended with a gala champagne and chocolate reception. Yum.
Weymouth’s concerts continue on November 12. For details, see our calendar.
And Nancy Green will perform in Raleigh (with a different pianist) on January 30, when she will repeat the Fantasiestücke and the Prokofiev; for details, see our calendar..